I didn’t know what to expect when I first played No More Heroes. I hadn’t yet started high school, and was still an impressionable young lass who traded in Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Pokemon. All I knew about the Wii title was that a) it had laser swords and b) it looked like anime that I liked. That was it.
Over the next few weeks, my undeveloped mind was bent every which way by Suda51’s batshit, slimeball opus. The game, which follows sociopathic otaku Travis Touchdown’s quest to be the best assassin in the world (so he can get laid,) wasn’t like other stuff I was playing at the time. Its willingness to deliberately frustrate the player, its desire to push the boundaries of good taste, and its irreverent attitude towards genre all combined to make an experience unlike anything I’d seen before.
Now, over twelve years later, many players are getting the chance to have that same experience for the first time. While it might not seem like most people’s cup of tea at first blush, it remains a game worth playing if you’re interested in gaming as artistic expression.
Because, ultimately, that’s what No More Heroes is all about. This isn’t a game that’s designed to be a palatable product, or convince you to buy into a gacha system. There’s no massive franchise behind it, no aspirations of being a focus-tested thing that everyone likes. Instead, what Grasshopper delivers is messy, frantic, imperfect art in its purest form. To play No More Heroes is to take a peek inside Suda51’s brain – to absorb his worldview and perspective.
What this means is that each design choice is deliberate. Travis grinding out dull part-time job and driving his motorcycle around town isn’t just some filler mechanic meant to pad out the game, but an ingenious way of reminding players that this dude’s down on his luck. Taking a shit to save isn’t a dumb joke, but an indicator that Travis’ only real rest is in the bathroom. Jerking off your Beam Katana isn’t just a cute design choice, but it speaks to Travis’ masturbatory fantasies of being some kind of hero. Every seemingly inconsequential thing in this game, much like in Suda51’s other titles, is a choice meant to elicit a certain response from the player.
That applies to the buck-wild story, too. Each narrative choice in this game seems like pure nonsense, but once you start to scratch beneath the surface, you see Suda51’s complex machinations at work. There’s a reason otaku are presented as violent sociopaths driven by lust. There’s a reason murder is treated as a normal, capitalist commodity. There’s a reason the game’s script is preoccupied so much with gender relations and sexual trauma. Naturally, different people may draw different conclusions, but there’s no denying that the game is a complicate and joyful piece of art.
And I think, ultimately, that’s why No More Heroes is still worth playing. It’s a messy game, yes, and one with some fairly coarse subject matter. Yet it’s a game that’s authentic to its very core – a no-holds-barred experience that ranks among one of the most interesting in gaming. There needs to be more room in this medium for experiences like No More Heroes, and more money put into this kind of art.
Because often, art isn’t a glitzy, expensive 70-80 hour blockbuster. Sometimes, it’s a loser in sunglasses publicly masturbating so he can keep killing people.
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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
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